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Pennsylvania Resources Council puts hazardous materials in their place

| Sunday, July 27, 2014, 10:30 p.m.

People have turned in more than 4 million pounds of hazardous chemicals since the Pennsylvania Resources Council began collecting them 11 years ago.

“What they are doing is tremendous. It is a great public service,” said John Poister, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The council does not know exactly how much its work has improved the condition of landfills, wastewater and stormwater.

“That would be really hard to quantify. I do not know what the impact of these collections would be. It is a small amount, barely scratching the surface,” said Michael Stepaniak, environmental programs coordinator at the council.

Officials at the Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association could not say either.

In Pennsylvania, it's legal to dispose of hazardous chemicals such as paint thinner, gasoline and oil with household garbage or by pouring it into a drain, according to Poister. But toxins from chemicals can get into the ground or groundwater, can be flammable and can cause combustion, Poister said.

One trend environmental authorities are noticing is that waste haulers are getting more selective about what they will pick up. Some of this is a result of a 2013 law that prohibits collection of electronic waste.

“More and more, haulers are also refusing to collect paint cans and containers with other chemicals,” Poister said.

Changing the law would require establishing regular collections for hazardous chemicals or permanent drop-off locations for consumers, Stepaniak said.

“If you make it illegal, you have to set up the infrastructure, which would take money. In some states, it is not a priority,” he said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an average home can easily accumulate 100 pounds of cleaners, car batteries, motor oil, paints, stains and varnishes, pesticides and other products containing hazardous components.

On Saturday, the council will sponsor a collection event in Boyce Park. It will be the 75th held in a nine-county region of Western Pennsylvania since 2003.

“If they were stacked up, the containers holding the (collected) chemicals would be 600 times as high as the Washington Monument,” Stepaniak said.

The Boyce Park collection is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It will accept cleaners, paints, stains, automotive products, pesticides, oil and gasoline.

Stepaniak said some people have shown up with somewhat exotic chemicals — including liquid mercury, cyanide, strychnine and even DDT, which was banned in the United States in 1972.

The council charges $2 for each container of chemicals it disposes.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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